Dressing for warmth

Dressing for warmth

The clothes you wear are an important part of how you can stay warm in the winter months. One of the main purposes of clothing is to help maintain your body temperature, it helps to control the rate that heat flows into and out of your body. (Bloomfield, 2001).

Listed here are some general hints on keeping warm, as well as advice on how clothing can best keep you warm.

General hints on keeping warm

There are a number of things you can do to keep warm, and while choosing the right clothing plays an important part, you should also consider how your home is heated and insulated, your lifestyle, finances and the general environment.

  • It can be expensive to use your home's heating system though the winter months. Payments are available through the Warm Home Discount Scheme, Cold Weather Payments and Winter Fuel Payments to help towards the cost of your energy bills. There are eligibility criteria for these payments (Gov.UK, 2018)
  • There are energy grants available to help you to improve the energy efficiency of your home.
  • At night while you sleep, your body is less able to control its temperature and you may have your heating switched off. Warming your bed with hot water bottles or an electric blanket for a few hours before you get in will help you maintain your body temperature overnight.
  • While clothing helps you maintain your body heat, it does not generate heat for you. Getting dressed in a warm environment and keeping your clothes near a radiator can help. Some gentle exercise before getting dressed can also help, as it helps generate body heat and improves circulation (Age UK, 2017).
  • Eating warm meals can help you feel warm and maintain your body temperature. Drinking hot drinks throughout the day, and before you go to bed, will also help you stay warm. (Age UK, 2017).
  • Hand warmers and heat pads are readily available, and may be a good idea to use if you are outside for a long period. They can also be used to warm up shoes before you put them on.

How clothing keeps you warm

Clothing keeps you warm by allowing air to act as an insulator. Heat leaving your skin warms a thin layer of air around you, however this air is constantly moved away from your skin and replaced with colder air. Being outside on a windy day worsens heat loss, as the wind quickly blows away the warm air around your skin. Clothing helps stop the warm air from being moved away from your body. (Bloomfield, 2001)

Wearing several thin layers of clothing rather than one or two thick layers will help keep you warmer, as the air trapped between the layers will help insulate your body. Heavier layers of clothes tend to trap less air as the weight of each layer pushes the air out (Raynaud's and Scleroderma UK, 2016).

How to dress for warmth

  • A considerable amount of body heat escapes through your head, so covering your head will help keep you warmer (Raynaud's and Scleroderma UK, 2016)
  • We often think covering up hands and feet makes us feel warmer, however keeping your trunk and limbs well covered will help you maintain body warmth
  • Thermal underwear will help keep you very warm. Try to cover as much of your body as possible by wearing long sleeves, high necks and long johns/tights. Thermal underwear is available made from both natural and synthetic materials, generally natural materials like wool and silk will keep you warmer (Raynaud's and Scleroderma UK, 2016)
  • A wool or fleece layer is a good idea, as it will be soft and lightweight, and warm air is more easily trapped in the fibres. Fabrics with a piled, terry or textured finish will also be effective at trapping air
  • Scarves can help cover up areas that are exposed to the cold air, such as your face and neck
  • To keep your feet warm, wear a thin pair of socks or tights on your feet, followed by a thicker pair. A well-fitting pair of shoes with a leather upper will also help
  • If you have dressed in lighter, insulating layers, you may not need a heavy winter coat on wet and windy days. A lightweight wind and waterproof jacket could be sufficient, and will be much easier to manage than a heavy winter coat
  • The older clothing is, the less warm it tends to be. The fabric becomes compressed and heavier with age, and is less effective at keeping you warm.


The material that clothes are made from is also important to consider when dressing for warmth.

  • Loosely woven or knitted garments are generally less effective at keeping you warm, as cold air can easily get through the spaces between the fibres
  • Jersey (knit) fabrics can be made from silk, wool, cotton or synthetic fibres. They are generally very good insulators as they trap air within their fibres, and are particularly good when layered with other garments
  • Some manufacturers are now using textiles containing silver to make various types of clothing including socks and gloves. As well as having antibacterial properties, silver keeps you warm by reflecting your body heat back to your skin. Some silver garments are available through Raynaud's and Scleroderma Association.

Further information

  • Age UK have a useful information sheet on keeping warm that also contains links to useful organisations and further reading
  • The Raynaud's and Scleroderma Association has information for people with Raynaud's or Scleroderma, as well as general information on keeping warm. They also sell a range of products including gloves and socks and heat packs.

View our impartial lists of specialised clothing and equipment for warmth

Extra warm underwear

Extra warm outerwear

Battery heated clothing

Advice last checked: 22 February 2018 Next check due: 22 February 2021

All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
Conflict of interest statement


  1. Direct Gov 2011  Heating and insulation improvements from the Warm Front Scheme
    View reference   Last visited:  25/02/2015 Evidence type: 2